Monthly Archives: October 2012

My Soul to Take – Yrsa Sigurdardottir

Sometimes there are books that you read at just the right time, sometimes there are books that you read in just the right place. It is very rare that you read something at just the right time and in just the right place, however with ‘My Soul to Take’ by Yrsa Sigurdardottir I think I just managed to get both spot on as I read it in Iceland, where it is set, and during the dark autumn nights, perfect for a chilling murder mystery with a slightly supernatural twist.

Hodder Books, paperback, 2010, fiction, 456 pages, translated by Bernard Scudder & Anna Yates, kindly sent by the publishers

In 2006, heroine of ‘Last Rituals’, Thóra is in the middle of a very boring dispute over letter boxes in her work life and having to deal with her children, one who has got his equally teenage girlfriend pregnant, her difficult ex husband and the fact that her finances are in tatters.

So when a client of hers, a bit of a hippy, Jonas Juliusson invites her to come to his New Age Health Spa as he believes it is haunted by a young woman and a young girl and so wants to sue the sellers whilst offering some free respite she can’t turn him down. No sooner has Thóra arrived the body of Jonas’ architect is discovered having been mutilated and raped and Jonas becomes the prime suspect but Thora suspects there is much more going on than meets the eye and, of course, there is.

So how does this link with the story from the beginning in 1945? Well I am not going to tell you that am I as I want you to run out and get the book because it’s so good. I can say that I had no idea what the link was or indeed who the villain of the whole novel was until very close to the end because Yrsa fills this book with so many characters motives and twists and turns you are always second guessing and you second guess is invariably always wrong. I will say that the period of history, and this doesn’t give anything away, and the role of Iceland and the Nazi’s in WWII was a really interesting part of the plot, and therefore the book, because I had no idea about any of that at all and found it grimly fascinating.

I will say that I do think that Yrsa Sigurdardottir is swiftly becoming one of my favourite voices in crime at the moment.  With ‘My Soul to Take’ she does all the things I loved in ‘Last Rituals’ that I loved all over again but keeps it feeling fresh and new. There is the supernatural element, is there a ghost or not, the folklore of the country, the rather grisly murders (made all the worse by the fact you do feel you have an emotional connection to the victims which I always think makes everything more heightened), the sense of atmosphere of Iceland and, equally importantly, a dark and wry sense of humour running through it. It’s rather like its protagonist Thóra in many ways actually. There was one scene that made me laugh and laugh but I worry if I shared it with you I would be judged and you may never come back to this blog again. Let us move on shall we and have a nice picture of the lake I sat reading this by in Iceland…

A beautiful lake in Iceland, possibly inspiration for the first murder scene in ‘My Soul to Take’?

If you are looking for an intelligent crime novel that has an original gutsy heroine, victims you empathise with, clever crimes and more red herrings than, erm, a red herring factory then I would highly recommend ‘My Soul to Take’. I should add here that while it is the second in the series it would stand alone, however if you are like me and you have to read a series from the start then do pick up ‘Last Rituals’ as soon as you can, go on, get it now. I am certainly looking forward to the third instalment of Thóra, though before I turn to that I am going to read Yrsa’s latest novel ‘I Remember You’ which is a standalone horror, perfect for this time of year and arrived just this morning.

Who else has read any of Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s novels? What did you think? Do they get better and better? What are your thoughts on the humour in these novels? Have you been completely flummoxed by the killer the whole way through too?

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Filed under Books of 2012, Hodder & Stoughton, Review, Yrsa Sigurdardottir

The Persuasion of Procrastination

Why do I always do this? Whenever I have a deadline to read a book I leave it until the last minute. This is where I am currently at with reading Jane Austen’s ‘Persuasion’ for Classically Challenged and yet we are meant to be having the discussion on the novel on Sunday (well, when we will be having as I am determined to have finished it by then), oops. I shouldn’t be surprised though as reading to deadlines is something I always, just about, manage to do and yet I repeat this offense for book group reading, library books that someone else puts on hold and more. Why though, and is it actually detrimental to the book in question?

With book groups I think the main reason I leave it until last minute is the fact that I want the book fresh in my mind. I want to make sure that I don’t suddenly forget a characters name, a vital plot point, the prose style etc. In reality I actually probably forget at least one of these of feel that everyone else has understood the book so much better than I did in the first place I should simply stay schtum and not say anything too stupid or obvious. Interestingly I think that if I read them in advance my initial love/indifference/hatred for the book would have time to dissipate and settle and actually I might feel differently from the thoughts I had at the start. There would also be less pressure and less of me reading the final few pages as fast as I can as the bus turns down the street to the book group venue.

In the case of ‘Persuasion’ there might actually be a bit more to it than simply wanting to have read it in time to remember it. Realistically I like to have read a book, made notes along the way, started a review just after I finish it and then give it a week or so to settle, go back and edit what I wrote and then post my book thoughts/review. I think however with ‘Persuasion’ I have been putting it off, I genuinely believe subconsciously at first, because I think I am just a bit scared/intimidated/cynical about it.

When I first got the book, along with the other Classically Challenged titles, I was really excited. ‘Look at all these canon novels I am going to read’ was rather deliciously running through my head. Then I picked it up and was greeted by this…

“Sir Walter Elliot, of Kellynch Hall, in Somersetshire, was a man who, for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Baronetage; there he found occupation for an idle hour, and consolation in a distressed one; there his faculties were roused into admiration and respect, by contemplating the limited remnant of the earliest patents; there any unwelcome sensations, arising from domestic affairs changed naturally into pity and contempt as he turned over the almost endless creations of the last century; and there, if every other leaf were powerless, he could read his own history with an interest which never failed. This was the page at which the favourite volume always opened:

“ELLIOT OF KELLYNCH HALL.

“Walter Elliot, born March 1, 1760, married, July 15, 1784, Elizabeth, daughter of James Stevenson, Esq. of South Park, in the county of Gloucester, by which lady (who died 1800) he has issue Elizabeth, born June 1, 1785; Anne, born August 9, 1787; a still-born son, November 5, 1789; Mary, born November 20, 1791.”

Precisely such had the paragraph originally stood from the printer’s hands; but Sir Walter had improved it by adding, for the information of himself and his family, these words, after the date of Mary’s birth– “Married, December 16, 1810, Charles, son and heir of Charles Musgrove, Esq. of Uppercross, in the county of Somerset,” and by inserting most accurately the day of the month on which he had lost his wife.”

My initial thoughts were ‘oh dear, how boring is that’, followed by ‘ooh Jane Austen is as big a fan of the comma over the full stop as I am’, because it reads like an encyclopaedia entry and whilst I like to know random things the style is just a bit yawn-some. Sorry but it is true. And so, and I think this is because I actually want to like these authors and these books (I am not taking part in Classically Challenged so I can tear these authors apart laughing with delight that I knew I was right about them all along), I have put off reading it. When I went to Gran’s I ‘forgot’ to pack it, when I have had time to read I have somehow picked up something else, when I packed for Iceland alas Jane didn’t make it in my luggage. Now with days to go I am going to have to be very strict and simply sit and read it (though as you will have noticed I have now sat down and written this instead) and nothing else until it is done.

Before I go (more procrastination) though I wondered if you ever get nervous or intimidated when starting a book, and if so why do you and how do you deal with it. Austen lovers, and you recommended I start with this book, please tell me ‘Persuasion’ gets better? Oh and finally, do any of you find you leave reading a book you know you have to read by a certain date, until the last minute? Library books, challenges, book club books, whatever. Let me know.

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Savidge Reads Library Loot #1

So I thought I would try something new and different today, well its new and different for me, by doing a Vlog post. I have often admired Eva of A Striped Armchair’s video posts of what she has recently gotten from the library and thought ‘well why don’t I give that a whirl myself’. So the other day I plumped myself down in front of my phone and have made a little (well its nine minutes, so maybe grab a cuppa) video for you all of my latest library loot. Get ready for the word ‘awkward’ a lot and some nervous rambling here and there…

Would you have liked a list of these books below? If so I will add one when I am back in the UK. Most importantly though does a post every now and again like this one work for you? Do you like a random video to watch now and again or is the whole thing not your bag? If you do like them would a ‘library loot’ post or a post of ‘books incoming’ be better? Let me know your thoughts

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The Lives of Servants

Yesterday I asked you for some advice on books set in, or written by authors from, Iceland. In a few hours I will be whizzing off there and may just have some of your recommendations in my luggage with me. I say I may as this is one of five or six posts that will be going live while I am there, so you won’t even know I am gone. Anyway today I want your recommendations for another sort of reading material that I am hankering after… reading about servants.

Servants…

This might sound a little bit random, but recently servants and their history have really taken a hold of me. This probably started off a good while back when Downton Abbey, though I have to say that I have started both series two and series three, after adoring series one, and alas have given up with them both – its lost a certain something, even Maggie’s lines aren’t as good as they once were. What has really made me fascinated, and sparked this interest, is the wonderful BBC series ‘Servants: The True Story of Life Below Stairs’ presented by Dr Pamela Cox.

Starting from the Victorian era and on to the not too distant past over three episodes, Dr Cox looks at how the life of domestic servants has changed, their conditions and the struggle of power and rites. Imagine a younger Mary Beard talking enthusiastically about the Victorians, instead of Romans, and you can almost get the gist and I am sure you will understand why we have been gripped.

It has also been making me think about my house, which is late Georgian/early Victorian, and the history of its predecessors and servants. How do I know we have servants? Well we often have our lovely 78 year old neighbour come round for dinner who lives in the attic of our building and outside her door are the servant’s bells. Well, it gets better… I was musing about this on Twitter when a lovely man named Matthew contacted me as he is a genealogist and looks into families and the history of houses, he has been doing my house for free very kindly and look what he found out, not only did we (well I say we, but really its they) have a nurse maid and three servants in the house, one of them came all the way from Switzerland – click on the image below and you’ll see.

1901 census

Slowly but surely I am finding more and more out. We have had a few deaths in the house and also some births, sadly one birth was also one of the deaths a few months later, we have even seen an advert for the cook who would have lived here. Fascinating!

What I want now though is to be able to read even more about the lives these servants might have had, what they did and the atmosphere they did it in and I wondered if you had any recommendations. Alas Dr Pamela Cox hasn’t written one but I know Judith Flanders has a book called ‘The Victorian House’ which I have ordered from the library, but I would love to know of more, especially any diaries of domestic staff from the time. Can you help?

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Icelandic Reads, Authors & Bookshops…

Now if all goes to plan then I should be spending a long weekend in Iceland for work this weekend from Friday to Monday, if not then I will be going in a few weeks so it is relevant either way. Those of you who pop by regularly will know that if at all possible I like to read books set in the country I am visiting if I can, or works written by authors from that country. So, which books set in Iceland or written by Icelandic authors would you recommend I read?

I must admit that I do have one series set in Iceland that I really love and that is Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s crime novels which feature lead character, and lawyer which is a bit different, Thóra Gudmundsdóttir. Well when I say I love the series, I loved the first ‘Last Rituals’ and so will be packing the second ‘My Soul To Take’ to have with me on the trip. But what others must I try and get my mitts on?

Oh and if any of you have been or indeed are from Iceland (in which case let me know and lets do coffee), can you recommend a wonderful bookshop or two there I can hunt down for a nosey? Thanks in advance (and if that wasn’t enough I have another set of books on a certain subject I will be asking for you help with tomorrow!)

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Granny Savidge Reads Update #3

Hello all! I thought, while she is having a doze and The Beard is deeply engrossed in ‘Bette & Joan; The Divine Feud’, I would drop you a quick update on Gran as you’ve all been so lovely in sending your support and best wishes.

Well, she is home which is just wonderful. Especially since yesterday was her 71st Birthday, you have never seen so many cards, flowers or cake. Plus she has the most amazing view from her bed…

20121016-154825.jpg

How could you not relax with it? Beats a hospital ward any day! So its nice to know that shes here and happy for the time we have ahead. I will admit she’s given us a few frights with her rogue left leg and some wobbling about but I am so proud of how she is walking around now considering that she had no movement in her left side 15 weeks ago, and take into account that she has this tumour, I think it’s amazing. Really proud of her.

Anyway, thought I would give you a brief update before I go and light some more candles (the ones you can’t blow out, snigger) on yet another recent chocolate cake based arrival!

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Lovers – Daniel Arsand

Earlier in the year I read Justin Torres’ debut novel ‘We The Animals’ and one of the things that I liked about it so much was the fact that through the briefest of snap shots a while fictional world evolved which I really had to work at putting together. It felt like snapshots of someone’s life and was just beautifully written. When I saw his praising quote on the cover of ‘Lovers’ by Daniel Arsand I instantly had high expectations and when I flicked through and saw simple page long chapters I had high hopes this might be a similar success with me too and so had high expectations from the off.

***, Europa Editions, paperback, 2012, fiction, 144 pages, translated by Howard Curtis, kindly sent by the publisher

‘Lovers’ is set in France during the reign of Louis XV in the seventeen hundreds. One day fifteen year old Sebastian witnesses a young nobleman, Bathazar de Creon, thrown from his horse. Thanks to Sebastian’s knowledge of medicines and herbs he saves Balthazar’s life and from here the start of a love story, that dare not speak its name, begins. Homosexuality was (well in some places it still is) seen as something abhorrent in the 18th century France and so when tongues start to wag around the courts scandal looks like it will ensue and destroy everything for the couple.

While I have to say I thought the prose was utterly beautiful, and indeed this could really be a novella in poetry almost, in a way the novel was a bit too vague for me. I knew what was happening in the story and the sense of impending doom built up a real tension throughout, and yet something wasn’t working for me. I wondered if in being such short bursts, whilst being very impassioned and quite wrought yet beautiful, I felt like I never really got into any ones head but the storytellers and yet the storyteller was a rather dreamy and fluid narrator so when I thought I should be feeling joy, I was being told I should yet didn’t and the same when I felt I should be heart broken or devastated. I felt I should, I never quite was which was quite saddening and frustrating for me as with the prose as it stood I should have been blown away as I know others have been.

Short and sparse…

I do feel for authors sometimes. We readers can be a really difficult bunch. For example I have said often enough that I like books where authors make me work hard or leave gaps in the way characters look, behave for me to fill in myself. I don’t like books where you are spoon fed everything; the descriptions are repeated over and over again just to make sure you have the exact picture in your head that the author wants, or where the research whacks you constantly over the head.

With ‘Lovers’ I have discovered however that there are some books where, if too vague, whilst I might find the prose stunning leave me at a slight distance and ‘Lovers’ was a book which many will love for its poetic prose, I was just left thinking I had enjoyed but couldn’t get anything deeper from sadly. Others have, and I am rather envious of them for it because I can see it has the potential to be a hugely emotional novella just not alas for me. I ended up admiring it, but from a distance.

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Filed under Daniel Arsand, Europa Editions, Review